PETALING JAYA: Expect tension to run high when the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) forum – to discuss ways to improve road cycling – gets under way on Saturday at Universiti Putra Malaysia in Serdang.
In one corner will be MNCF, an association helmed by Abu Samah Abdul Wahab, a president who has been in power since 1990.
In the other corner are the cyclists, former national riders and coaches who have shed blood, sweat, tears and time for the sport.
To understand why the forum is needed in the first place, one needs only to look back to last December when the road cycling team, filled with professional riders, could not even win a single medal (individual event) in the SEA Games in Myanmar.
That’s simply appalling for a team full of professional riders.
But that’s not the whole story.
Prior to the start of the road race, team managers Omar Saad and Amrun Misnoh made a sudden decision to drop Mohd Zamri Salleh from the squad.
Zamri, a professional with the Terengganu Cycling Team, was deemed to have been declared unfit by a doctor and lost his place in the squad to a rider from MNCF’s camp – Mohd Rauf Nor Misbah.
The squad initially refused to start the race but relented at the last minute. In the end, Giant Shimano professional rider Loh Sea Keong was the best finisher, coming in fourth.
Was Zamri really unfit to ride? Did the doctor made an accurate assessment? The issue came to light when Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin got involved.
It was then that the whole saga began to unfold.
The National Sports Institute (NSI) doctor who examined Zamri prior to the race reported that he was fit to ride.
But the MNCF executive committee, who met on Jan 8 in Malacca, concluded that Zamri was down with fever after another doctor examined him.
Now, which doctor did MNCF consult?
Today’s forum will not just be about the professional riders against the federation, though.
MNCF have been receiving public funding of about RM1.5mil a year since 2007 for their road cycling programme. Sadly, Malaysia have never won the gold medal in road cycling at the SEA Games since then!
The last time Malaysia won a road race gold medal was in 2005, through Suhardi Hassan in the Manila Games.
Where did all the money go to?
The increase in the number of professional cyclists in the country – to the extent of having a rider in a World Tour team (Sea Keong) – has very little, if not anything, to do with MNCF.
In fact, Abu Samah was not happy when the idea that the Terengganu Cycling Team would be registered as a continental team was mooted in 2010.
Khairy did the right thing by ordering the MNCF’s accounts to be audited. The minister also met with several professional riders at his office to listen to their grouses.
One thing we can expect from Saturday’s forum is that it will surely be a heated one.
One corner will demand to know what went wrong and why. And the other corner will have a lot of explaining to do.
As all the MNCF executive committee members will be present, it would be interesting to listen to their reactions.
Let’s also hope that the cyclists, coaches and ex-nationals will keep an open mind and be positive.
The end result should be about finding a way to revive the road cycling programme – and not spending the whole afternoon pointing fingers at each other.
After all, it is a forum – not a court of law.
The forum will be held at the Bestari Hall, Fifth College at Universiti Putra Malaysia from 1.30pm. And the writer hopes that no chairs will be hurled!